VILNIUS, June 30, /ITAR-TASS/. Referendum on the sales of farmland to foreigners that was held in Lithuania Sunday has been recognized invalid, as the turnout of voters at polling stations did not reach the 50% required by law, Zenonas Vaigauskas, the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission of the Lithuanian Republic told a news conference that was held about midnight.
“The turnout was 14.2%, which is far from enough to declaring a plebiscite valid,” Vaigauskas said.
Sunday, the 2.53 million Lithuanians with franchise had an opportunity to express their opinion on the issue put up for the voting.
Vaigauskas indicated that the official results would be released on Thursday.
“The Central Electoral Commission, however, doesn’t see any factors that could influence the assessment of this referendum radically,” he said.
The referendum on sales of farmlands to foreigners was held pursuant to a popular initiative. For the first time ever, public activists managed to gather 300,000 signatures in support of the idea and the authorities had to accept it.
However, initiators of the motion say the government has done everything in its power to doom it to failure.
“Information (about the referendum) was hushed up and blocked in any imaginable way from the very beginning,” Pranciskus Sliuzas, a member of the steering committee of the referendum told reporters.
The initiators insisted that it was to be held simultaneously with the presidential election but the country’s political leadership did not agree to it citing procedural formalities.
Lithuania pledged to open its market of farmland in full when it joined the EU in 2004 but it managed to get a delay, which expired May 1, 2014.
Lithuanian society is split over a possible authorization of sales of land to foreigners.
“Any competitiveness of our farmers, who get incomparably smaller direct subsidies per hectare of land than the farmers in ‘Old Europe’, is out of the question,” an adversary of free sales/purchases of land said.
The low turnout of voters Sunday threw a face-saving lifeline to the Lithuanian government, helping it to escape legislative contradictions with Brussels, which might have emerged had the majority of voters opted for renunciation of the sales of farmland to foreign customers.